Lunch at Google

Last week I had the pleasure of lunching at Google in New York. My friend, Bruce Falck, who works there took me on a bit of a tour around the offices. He used to be based at HQ in Mountain View — aka the Googleplex — and showed me around there when I was studying at Stanford.

Alas, one can’t take photos inside, but this is what I can tell you:

  • It’s huge! Google rents space in the New York Port Authority, which has the largest footprint in Manhattan. The building is a full city block, and if you know how long a block of the Avenues is, you’ll appreciate how long it takes to walk from one end of the floor to the other.
  • Which is why there are push wheelies to scoot around on. And outside the cafeterias are racks to park the wheelies.
  • The office space is mostly open plan. But this is no dour cubicle farm. The space is highly customised. Googlers stick up posters of their favourite bands, skateboards or even muppets. One section had a wall covered in about 200 vinyl records. Every desk also has it’s array of personalised paraphernalia.
  • The engineers (software developers) have Macbooks for portability and PCs on their desks. Often desks are covered in hardware being tested or developed for.
  • Google runs Goobuntu Linux, a slightly customised version of Ubuntu.
  • Each meeting room has four screens for video conferencing. I peered into a meeting and the images being beamed from other parts of the world were chrystal clear. Oh, the bandwidth!
  • The games room is huge, with foosball, ping pong, arcade games, console games (Playstation, Wii, etc.), loungers, etc.
  • And then there’s the food. An incredible selection of salads, antipasti, roast meets, fish, home-cooking, desserts and drinks. All free, of course.
Google New York (Image: niallkennedy, CC-BY-NC)

Google New York (Image: niallkennedy, CC-BY-NC)

When Bruce began working for Google there were 5,000 employees. That number is now around 20,000. It remains one of the most difficult companies to get hired at in the world. As I walked around the building — seeing the giant that is Google at work — I was reminded of a Nokia ad campaign with the tagline “intelligence everywhere.” These are bright people doing very cool, world-changing stuff.

What is impressive is how accommodating the company is: basically you can do what you like with your desk space, wear what you like or make extensive use of the games room. I even noticed a group of Jewish employees praying in one of the meeting rooms. As long as you do your work, and do it well, it’s all good.

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